Ask any Italian why you should go to Sardinia and he’ll respond, probably a little wistfully, “Il mare, è stupendo…” (The sea, it’s stupendous.) Italy’s second-largest Mediterranean island is surrounded by an achingly beautiful sea of glass-clear, profoundly blue and green waters. Though a countless number of beaches could justly brag that they’re the most beautiful on the island, those along the Golfo di Orosei, on Sardinia’s central east coast are the stuff of screen savers and vision boards the world over. Some are smooth and sandy. Some are steep and pebbly. Some of them are easy to reach; some require a bit of work and planning. All of them are worth the effort.
Some of the following beaches are most easily reached by boat, you’ll need to decide on your vessel of choice. Yacht-size ships hold 100 or more people; they are usually the cheapest option, and offer creature comforts like lunch aboard, bathrooms, and a smoother ride. But they can also have a cattle car feel and stop at fewer beaches. Gommone, or zodiac rafts, can be booked with or without a driver/guide. Guided gommone take a maximum of 12 people. It’s a fun, bumpy ride as your sea-tested captain bounces over the waves from one beach to the next, and you’ll need to hang on tight or risk getting tossed overboard. These guides know all the nooks and crannies of the coast, and will even motor into grottoes or pursue schools of frolicking dolphins. If you choose to rent your own gommone, you can stop where you want for as long as you want. Either guided or self-piloted, gommone get you closer to the shore and stop at more beaches than do the big boats.
Boats of all sizes depart from the town marinas at Orosei or Cala Gonone. Most head first to the southern end of the gulf, then make their way back north, stopping at beaches and coves along the way.
Start with the tamer sands along the northern part of the gulf—those reachable by car. Things get increasingly more dramatic and harder to get to along the gulf’s southern arc.
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There’s one thing missing along this tranquil chain of five sandy, shallow-water beaches: crowds. With an entry fee, a daily limit of just 140 cars and 30 motorcycles and plenty of room to spread out, the Biderosa Oasis is a quiet… well, you could call it an oasis, but they already thought of that. Services include a food truck, porta-potties, and umbrella, beach chair and canoe rentals. Walking trails crisscross the 860-hectare site, and flocks of flamingoes and other migratory birds make seasonal pit stops at the lagoons of Biderosa. There are no daily entry limits for walkers or cyclists.
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Cala Liberotto & Cala Ginepro
Plan to arrive early to either of these two sandy beaches just to the south of Biderosa; both of which are great for their scenery, calm waters for little kids, and grown-up diversions like snorkeling, kayaking and paddle-boarding. Choose a spot shaded by scraggly juniper and pine trees or for snorkeling, base yourself near one of the rocky points, which hide hidden, calm pools of dazzlingly clear water. There is plenty of parking at both beaches (paid at Cala Ginepro; free at Cala Liberotto), plus nearby bars, restaurants and beach rentals.
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Your first stop by boat will likely be Cala Goloritze, a UNESCO-protected, boulder-strewn, pebble beach backed by severe granite cliffs. If you can actually reach the beach here, you’ll have it largely to yourself. Motorized vessels must stay 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) offshore, meaning most guided boats make just brief stops for photos—anyone who wants to reach the shore from a private boat has to swim. If you choose to hike in, it’s a 10-mile drive from Baunei, the closest town, to a parking area at the Golgo Plateau. From there, the 90-minute hike to the beach involves elevation changes and rock scrambling, as well as intense sun and heat in summer months—hiking boots and plenty of water are essentials. Your reward is worth the toil—swimming under a natural sea arch, snorkeling with schools of fish, and sunning on what feels (almost) like a desert island. Be sure to allow enough time for the hike back to your car before dark.
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Calas Mariolu and Goloritze vie for the top spot on many a “most beautiful beaches” list. If you’ve made the effort to hike to Goloritze you can continue on to Cala Mariolu, but it’s an extreme hike with sharp vertical descents. And remember, what goes down, must come up. Instead, plan to arrive by boat. Gommone and larger vessels can pull right up to shore here and drop off passengers, then anchor offshore and wait. If the beach feels a little crowded, dive into those cerulean waters and you’ll quickly feel like you’re in another world altogether.
As you continue on your boat tour, do jump in at Piscine di Venere, or the Pools of Venus. Though the beach here is off-limits due to frequent rockslides, the deep, ridiculously clear, fish-filled waters are among the most inviting in the gulf. Your guided boat will only make a quick stop here—and we guarantee you’ll wish it was longer.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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This sand and pebble beach is a real stunner, with a sea arch on one side and vertical cliffs on another, plus massive rocks that serve as ideal dive platforms. It’s a smallish beach, so not quite as many charter boats stop here compared to Mariolu or Cala Luna (see below). Though you technically can hike to Cala Bariola (also called Cala Birìala), it’s at least 3 hours from anywhere. You’re much better off on a skippered or self-driven gommone.
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Famous for its huge sea-carved caverns that extend deep into the rock face, this oft-photographed beach is a mix of sand and stone, with a fairly steep shoreline and water that gets deep quickly. Cala Luna is backed by a shallow lagoon with kid-sized boat rentals, and there’s a rustic restaurant and bar. You can walk here via a 3-hour hike from Cala Fuili, a pebble beach near the town of Cala Gonone. On the way, make a detour to the Grotta del Bue Marino, an other-worldy sea grotto with daily tours. Or, you can do as most visitors do, and arrive at the grotto by boat.